My name is Leanna Pohevitz and I am currently an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) under the Fulbright Scholarship in Brazil. I am on my second Fulbright, this year serving as both an ETA and leader or mentor to the incoming ETAs. I work at the Universidad do Estado do Pará in Belém. I support the faculty and students at the public university, teaching lessons or parts of lessons about various topics not limited to North America cultures, linguistics, literature, and teaching strategies.
I am honored to share my story of application, dedication, and acceptance. The Fulbright scholarship program is a cultural exchange program that sends competitively selected American-citizens abroad to research or teach abroad. Simultaneously, the program accepts international citizens for opportunities in teaching or researching in the United States.
My Fulbright scholarship experience has not been poetic, nor was it quick.
I applied for Fulbright for my first time as a college senior. I was hoping to head right off into a year abroad post-graduation. After having studied Arabic throughout my undergraduate degree and spending months in Egypt, Tunisia, the UAE, Qatar and Lebanon and earning my TESOL certificate through a semester-long college course, I felt made for the program in Jordan. Despite what I believed was a stellar application full of the right motives and above average grades and involvement I was chosen as an alternate who never got the callback.
I spent a year in Oregon, learning about American politics and then pursued my long term experience abroad serving in the Peace Corps. Proud to represent US values that way, I was a Youth Development Volunteer. I taught swimming, English, and aerobics, and took on projects like leading camps and building playgrounds.
After Peace Corps, I decided to apply to Fulbright scholarship again, this time to Turkey, a place I had also spent time where a language I had pursued actively was spoken. Here came my big break. I was accepted as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) and prepared to leave, with all that entails for both me and my partner – quitting jobs, finishing leases etc. I also didn’t take a job in Brazil, for the Olympics. I wasn’t torn about that missed opportunity because I felt the Olympics could be such a dangerously negative force that I didn’t really want to be associated but I had been learning Portuguese specifically with the intention of translating in a big arena. Instead of heading to the beaches of Rio, my partner and I were buying cold weather clothing and mentally preparing for snowy mountains. Unfortunately for our plans, the year was 2016 and the Turkish people were preparing a coup attempt that would get all Fulbright visas canceled.
I was working in Jordan at the time (because life comes full circle and if you want to go somewhere with enough determination you probably will) when I got an email. I looked when my cell dinged; I had a new email from Fulbright. I don’t remember it verbatim but I do remember feeling the color fall out of my face like in a silly cartoon, as I read the words telling me my Fulbright scholarship had been canceled. No ifs ands or buts, they would return the visa fees only. I sat on the curb and sobbed. Heartily.
Here I was, someone who had always put the Fulbright scholarship at the top of my wishlist, having it taken from me. Of course, I was simultaneously sobbing about the new instability and uncertainty in a country I had loved spending time in, worried for my friends’ futures.
Selfishly I was pissed they didn’t think of an alternative for us; They gave us just a “Good luck in all your future endeavors.”
So I said, “I will never apply again.” I was angry at Fulbright and deeply upset. I applied one more time extremely half-heartedly to Jordan. When I was passed in the first round I said I was done. Fast forward a few months, to after announcements have been made for each country and suddenly I receive an email from the Career Options staff at my alma mater, Hampshire College. It mentioned an expansion program: Brazil was beefing up its English Teaching Assistant (ETA) count because they had additional support money from the Brazilian government. With no travel/study/work experience in South America and a year since I had stopped studying even basic Portuguese, I felt underqualified.
Still, I remember saying out loud how serendipitous it was that I had not taken a job in Brazil for a Fulbright but now maybe I could go on a Fulbright scholarship to Brazil.
I worked extremely hard on my application for the few hours I had left before it was due and I crossed my fingers.
As you know, I was granted the fellowship. Each step afterward also felt like fate. I got my first choice for a site, Belem. My students, coworkers, and boss were brilliant, curious and supportive and the best part – as the year was coming to an end they announced that they were looking for 10 English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) to remain as mentors for the next group, staying an entire additional grant in the country. I was determined to be given the honor of leading the next round of recipients. When I was offered it, in a mere number of days I accepted.
So, here I am, preparing to begin a new semester and a new grant serving in the same city but this time, as a leader. My goals for this year are varied: a. I want to take and pass the CELPE-BRAS proving my Portuguese skills, b. I want to be an extremely supportive and well-respected mentor, c. I want to encourage Fulbright to actively seek out for more diverse participants, d. I want to be an excellent teacher and colleague and e. I want to leave here confident it what comes next.
In the meantime, if you are thinking about Fulbright let me leave you with some tips from my own experience.
Persistence. If there is one thing my story shows it is that you might not get it on your first application, you might not get to go even if you do get it – but if you REALLY want a Fulbright scholarship you have a very good chance of getting one if you just keep applying with genuine dedication to the application.
As with all applications, you need to convince the reader that they are not just investing in you – they are investing in the future of all the people around you. Tell them how you will teach what you already know to the people in your host country AND how you will bring the knowledge you will surely gain abroad, home and elsewhere in your future travels.
Be genuine whenever possible. Maybe your story doesn’t feel like “enough” – if that is the case, what DO you bring? A successful Critical Language Scholarship essay I wrote wasn’t about the hardships I have faced primarily – it was centered around how I help people remember to look at the stars, and how I am there to hold them when they realize how small they are beneath those very same stars.
My last piece of advice is a bit of an outlier. If during this process you realize it isn’t for you – that is okay. You can go abroad and make more money. You can go abroad and do more intensive language study. You can go abroad and live in a host family and meet new people and learn to dance. Don’t be ashamed if it’s not what you truly want. If, however, you feel it is for you, hold on with both hands and just keep submitting those apps. I will turn 29 in this country but do not regret a single thing about how I have pursued this path.
As for your application. Each country requires slightly different things and I can only speak to the English Teaching Assistantship applications. In general, what you will need is:
Biographical Data – The usual run-down questions.
Statement of Grant Purpose – A 1-page document that explains what you will be doing in the country, for ETAs that is why you are interested in teaching English as a foreign language. This is also where you talk about the appeal of your chosen country.
Personal Statement – A 1-page narrative to give the reviewers a better picture of you. Unlike the Statement of Grant Purpose, you will not be talking about the host country – you will instead be talking about what, in your life, got you to this point – how your background influenced you to apply for this, and why right now in your life the scholarship is a perfect fit. This is where people often discuss their background, intellectual, educational or professional development, the adversity they have faced, and exposure to other cultures.
Foreign Language Docs – Depending on the country you may be required to submit proof of your language ability for the language of your host country.
Recommendations – Three recommenders will have to fill out the Fulbright specific for your application (not a narrative letter), so get it to them quite early. It is a good idea to meet with your recommenders to discuss why you want the English Teaching Assistant (ETA) scholarship so that they can include some of that information in their recommendations.
Transcripts – Official, from every school you have attended.
Though it seems like a lot, often times your undergraduate institution will have resources available to help you apply. They may even help you apply after you have already graduated.
If you are interested in applying head over to: https://us.fulbrightonline.org/countries/regions to choose which country is right for you. Note the competitiveness of different countries based on the number of applicants and the number of slots open as that competitiveness may make or break your likelihood of being granted the scholarship.
Once you select which program you want to apply to create an account on the Embark Online Application https://iie.embark.com/apply/fusp-2018
I would prioritize asking people to be your recommenders and ordering your transcripts as both may take some time. I would also make sure to have a copy of your resume and drafts of your essays ready for folks who do say yes to being your recommenders.
In your Fulbright scholarship application essay – focus on what makes you special. Explain how the investment in you does not end with you – that you intend to support people in their pursuit of English and how you will take your knowledge of the host country and host country language back to the US with you.
Be honest and thoughtful. Show that you are prepared to work hard, as this is a professional opportunity above all else. Show that you are genuinely interested in the country you are headed to. Show that you are excited and willing to share American culture with people abroad. Show that you are passionate about language study and cultural exchange. Show flexibility in placement once accepted. If you only want to be in Rio, don’t ever apply to Fulbright Brazil, it does a disservice to the community you will end up in and you will have unrealistic expectations about your time in the country. Most of all show how you stand out from every other applicant in the pile. You will do that by discussing your passions and how those passions overlap with the English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program and working abroad at this point in your life.
This is a very basic rundown of what got me here, in this Fulbright. If you have more questions about the program – https://www.cies.org/
Good luck in your application process for this and all other scholarships. Keep searching, there is one out there made for you!